If there is anyone who knows that it is darkest before the dawn, it is Texas State Technical College student T.J. Mendez.


Mendez, from Brady, is a student in the Emergency Medical Services EMT basic program at the Brownwood campus who hopes to work as a firefighter in his hometown someday. 


“Last year was not a good year. My dad had an accident. He was working under a truck, and the truck fell on top of him,” Mendez said. “First responders ... the firefighters ... were able to get the vehicle off of him and saved his life.”


Around that time, Mendez and his father were part of hundreds who lost their jobs as a result of the sand mines closing in Brady.  


“I had been thinking about a career as a first responder for a while, but as all this happened, I felt like it was time. As one door closes, another opens,” Mendez said. 


Mendez completed his fire certification at the Kilgore College Fire Academy last summer.   


“If somebody can go out there and help and save my dad, I want to be that type of person that can do that in my community for somebody else,” Mendez said. 


Mendez’s dedication to serving his community is just one of several qualities that make his instructor, Stephen Sharp, proud of his student and longtime friend. 


“T.J. and I have known each other personally for more than 20 years. He is a person with a strong work ethic who wants to help others,” Sharp said. “He is dedicated to making a difference, and I think he will have a bright future.” 


This is Mendez’s first time in college after graduating from high school in 2000. 


“Everybody has been so supportive. My wife is my biggest supporter. And even though I was discouraged at first, they have continued to encourage me,” Mendez said. “After being in this program, if there is anything I would tell someone, it would be to never settle and don't sell yourself short.” 


Mendez said he feels very lucky to have his dad watching him go through the program.


“I can’t imagine not having my dad here,” Mendez said. “I can't imagine not having a first responder there to save him. People are, unfortunately, always going to need help. So why can’t it be me?”


Mendez encourages anyone interested in joining the Emergency Medical Services program at TSTC to attend an information session hosted every Tuesday at 2 p.m. on the Brownwood campus. 


For more information about TSTC, log on to tstc.edu.